Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

I'm getting so far behind in my blogging activities, so I need to show you the highlights of last Saturday afternoon spent at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (NNWR) so I can move on to the other great stories and pictures I have to post for this week.

I hope you all get the chance to visit NNWR some day. I would love to see them offer a 3-4 day birding & nature workshop where participants could go out with the naturalists and study all the diverse habitats, plants, animals, and birds. The 90 minutes spent on the bus in the morning and several hours I had in the afternoon gave me only a small sampling of what this >43,000 acre refuge has to offer. They're currently in the process of building a large new visitors center, with a projected completion sometime in 2010. Maybe we should start planning now for a bloggers get-together that summer. They will arrange special field trips for birding groups......


At my first stop in the refuge, I was treated to a fly-by from this squadron of sandhill cranes.

Here's another look at a pair of Sandhill Cranes. We have them in Minnesota too, but usually closer to the Mississippi and I don't get down that way very often.

Here's a look at one of the juvenile Red-Headed Woodpeckers I saw. You can see from the back there's a lot of white on its wings. When they're flying, there's also a large white spot on their back, just above their tail. It's quite distinctive and makes them really easy to spot and identify when they're flying.

Here's an even worse picture of the adult woodpecker that the juvenile shown above was hanging around with. I'm guessing this was one of the parents. I know I said it in the previous post, but it was just fantastic to see so many Red-Headed Woodpeckers in one afternoon. I bet I saw at least 20 all over the refuge. The habitat (with its many dead or dying trees) was ideal for these birds. They're on the Audubon WatchList as records show this bird has seen a 50% decline in overall population since 1966.

Here's a story about Whooping Crane restoration near one of the viewing platforms in the refuge.

This was a little road to another viewing platform. It was in a native prairie area and I was trying to give you an idea of how tall the native grasses were growing right along the road. I was in Mr. Johnson's Tahoe and the grass was 4-5 feet tall. I also saw lots of Monarch butterflies all over in the refuge.

There was quite a bit of fall color starting to appear. I like the way the colorful maples, oak and sumac contrast with the dark colors of the evergreens.

Just another fall color shot with native prairie grasses in the foreground.

There was just one blemish on an otherwise lovely afternoon...... For whatever reason, there are certain roads in the refuge that are open to ATV traffic, and this was one of the groups I encountered. I could go into a huge ATV rant here, but I won't because Mr. Johnson owns one and he reads this blog. Suffice it to say that I do think ATVs have a purpose--on the farm or for work-related hauling and chores, etc. However, there's no way anyone's going to convince me that the folks in this picture above were out on their ATVs to enjoy nature because #1-they were going too fast to see much of anything; #2-you can see how dusty it was--after the third rider, the rest of the riders weren't able to see anything; and #3-any wildlife you might have been able to see would be scared off by the sounds of these ATVs coming up the road. OK, 'nuff said (deep cleansing breath and back to nature)

As I was crossing one of the roads, I happened to notice a large black chunk of something down the road to my right. It kind of looked like a blown-out tire, but as I watched, it started moving. I quickly changed course and headed up the road to investigate. By the time I got there the "black chunk" was in the grass next to the road. Getting out of the truck for a closer look revealed the HUGEST snapping turtle I have ever seen. Isn't this guy a monster? There was a drainage ditch from one of the lakes that ran under this road and this large snapper must have just crawled out of there. I felt really privileged to see such a creature.

Here's a pair of Trumpeter Swans. Caitlyn told us on the morning tour that there were several pairs in the refuge. (Lifebird #224 for me!)

Great Blue Heron (juvenile)

Belted Kingfisher

Goodbye for now......thanks for the memories......please come again!


Lynne said...

I don't think I would mind ATV's so much if they weren't so LOUD!
The refuge looks like an amazing place. Keep that blogger's get-together idea at the top of the list. The only place I've seen Red-headed Woodpeckers was at Itasca State Park. They are gorgeous birds.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Lynne,
My neighbor has one of those "racer" ATVs with really loud pipes. It aggravates me to no end when he's racing around the neighborhood.
The refuge is a wonderful place and just a few miles off I-94 in Wisconsin.....it would probably take you less time to get there than it took me. 2010 it is! I'll keep everyone posted on their visitor center grand opening date so we can plan ahead.

Jayne said...

Love the variety of things you got to enjoy Ruthie. Wow, now THAT'S a snapping turtle! :c) (p.s. I feel the same way about ATV's)

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I wish I was there with you Ruthie. What fun.

Julie said...

Beautiful pictures and some great sightings! Wish I could have gone with you! I know some who would like to have eaten that turtle!

Shellmo said...

What a great variety you saw!! And I would love to do a bird blogger adventure next year - how fun would that be??

Deb said...

Don't get me started on ATV's. Did you happen to read the series the Star Tribune ran about a week ago? I've been meaning to post about it, but then again some DNR folks have lost their jobs for speaking out against the state forest trail designation process...

And, a 50% decline in the population of red headed woodpeckers should be a wake up call. I remember seeing them at my great uncle's house near Pine City when I was little, and now they're gone from this part of the state.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Jayne,
Did you click on the snapping turtle picture to make it BIG? He was still all wet and muddy from coming out of the water. I didn't try and get too close--I wasn't sure how quick they were, but it didn't look like a critter I wanted to irritate in any way!

I wish you could have come too Lisa. It would have been good to have another pair of eyes to watch for everything--plus you could have told me what all the different plants and flowers were!

Hi Julie,
We would have had a great time together at this refuge.
I've heard of people eating turtles, but don't you think a big ol' turtle like this would taste kind of yucky?

Hi Shelley,
How far would it be for you to come from Michigan to west central Wisconsin? There's so much to see in this area....the International Crane Foundation is less than an hour away in Baraboo too. I have to save that for another trip.

Hi Deb,
I didn't see the Star-Tribune article and you need to keep your job for a couple years yet too!
I've never ridden ATV on any designated trails, but we used to be big snowmobilers and would go up north quite frequently. It always really pissed me off when we'd encounter those sledders who were drinking and driving, or going too fast on the trails or going off-trail just for the hell of it and it seemed that only a few violators caused bad feelings toward ALL snowmobilers. I imagine the same situations occur with the ATV riders. My personal opinion is that ATVs and nature are not an ideal match (and that's about as non-confrontational as I can phrase it ;-)
If I see one red-headed woodpecker a year in this area, I'm excited! They're still around, but you really have to watch for them.

Mary C said...

Wow! The size of that turtle is quite impressive. I don't think I've ever seen a snapping turtle before. Your red-headed WP and whooping cranes would be lifers for me. I'm glad you got to see such a variety of wildlife while you were there.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Mary,
I think it's hard to tell from the picture how big that turtle was, but I would have to say he was at least as big as an average sized doormat--easily 2 feet long from nose to tail!
If you and Red ever get to Minnesota for a visit, I'd love to take you guys over to visit this refuge for a day.

Anonymous said...

That is the biggest turtle I have ever seen, it is HUGE, a doormat size, unbelievable. The only thing I can say is I'm awestruck.
All the pictures your took were so beautiful, Necedah is a little part of God's earth, darn close to our Forestville State Park.
Thank you for the trip to Wisconsin and back. That woulld be a life trip for me. To think of all the trips to Wisconsin we made when Grandma and Grandpa Kaun were alive and we never stopped there, I guess we missed a lot.

Kathy said...

Thanks for the wonderful pictures. I've been wanting to go to Necedah, and now I have great motivation.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Mom,
Maybe we can plan a trip over there next spring--I bet it's warbler heaven during migration!

Hi Kathy,
Hopefully you will have a chance to make it over there and maybe spot some whooping cranes before they migrate in the middle of October. I think it would be well worth your drive from The Cities!

Marsha said...

It looks like a wonderful place to visit.

No comment on the ATV's as my DH rides a Harley in the refuges.

Caitlin said...


Its Caitlin from the Refuge! I wanted to thank you for the wonderful posts on the day you spent here. Its great to get the feedback that you've given and to hear all the people that are interested in coming is just so heartwarming.

If your group is interested in coming to Necedah for a tour next summer even, we will be hosting the Whooping Crane tours again. They run in August and here's the layout for how I've been doing them this summer:

5:30am arrival and intro to project.
Drive out to site and view training.
Drive to hangar and meet pilots.
1.5 to however-long-you-want-it tour of the refuge.

Of course training would be dependent on weather, but the tour would still be on no matter what the weather.

The tour of the refuge could be fit to meet whatever birds/habitats you'd be interested in seeing. Obviously we can't promise anything because wildlife is wildlife, but I've never had a group who has gone home empty-checklisted. We usually spend as much time on it as the group wants. Typically the tours go about 5 hours with training and hangar included. Its a fantastic opportunity to get to see more of the refuge and get a more personalized tour (approx. 15 can go).

If you're interested, contact Dan Peterson, Visitor Services Manager, at 608-565-4412.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

What a nice review from Caitlin, thast would be very nice for you.

Mary said...

That's the best Belted Kingfisher shot I've seen. Go you, Ruthie!

Jennifer said...

2010, huh? OK, I'll start saving my money... for travel, and a new lens! (OK, already started saving for that)

Anonymous said...

My cousin and I are two 50+ women who recently discovered ATVing. She has MS plus other issues. Using the ATV is a wonderful way for us getting out to see wildlife. (And, some seem to be used to ATVs). The ATV isn't a loud sports model & we don't speed down the roads. I would love to come to Necedah to see the refuge via ATV. Unfortunately, other noisy speedsters make us look bad. But, it's a nice way for differently-abled people to have fun. Maybe Necedah could put up speed limit signs for ATVs, then enforce it.

Thanks for listening.